Thirty Pieces

This is a series of inspirational posts based on the promises and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The title refers to the amount of money Judas Iscariot accepted to betray Jesus. Thirty pieces of silver was the Old Testament cost of a slave or the equivalent of four months’ wages. What on earth was Judas thinking? The chief priests wore their hearts on their sleeves as they plotted to kill the Son of Man. Judas, on the other hand, had been one of Jesus’s disciples and yet still decided to worship money rather than his Lord.

I thought about some of the awesome treasures that Jesus, our High Priest, offers us instead of the deceptive temptations of this world. He asks us to hand over this life to Himself. He who made true life possible by his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave is waiting to show us incomprehensible riches! Here, then, are thirty pieces of the Lord’s heart that He offers for those who decide to be accomplices for His love.

PIECE 1-REST

The first coin we pull out of the pouch is labeled REST. What a valuable treasure this is in our modern day mayhem. Jesus said, “Come to me,all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Go here. Go there. Soccer practice here. T-ball there. Laundry here. Finances there. The only real rest from this endless cycle of activity is found in Jesus. When we go to Him, we will find true rest. God rested after creating everything: for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.  -Hebrews 4:10  God wants us to do the same…through His only Son Jesus.

Knowing we are saved by the Son’s blood that was shed on Calvary’s cross, places us in an eternal place of rest. My soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. –Psalm 62:1  We have to be in His word. We have to be in His presence. We have to be in Him. When we actively do these things, our entire being experiences this supernatural rest that comes not from this world, but from Heaven.

Our jobs might be overwhelming. Our bodies may be broken. Our hearts might feel stung by the loss of someone we love. But, none of these are strong enough to diminish the power of God in our lives. Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. -Psalm 91:1 God is bigger than our problems. His shadow stretches farther than the scope of our problems. With our Creator, we find rest.

When we are walking this life with Jesus, our hearts are turned to look upon His will. His plans. We walk the path and ask Him to guide us by His mighty hand. God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah thousands of years ago and His words still hold true today: This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” -Jeremiah 6:16

Jesus offers us REST. Oh, what a precious gift. Unlike anything on earth, this first piece of the Lord’s treasure is a priceless gift worth betraying the world for. King David betrayed the emptiness of this life for the glorious riches of God and summarized this when he said, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure…” -Psalm 16:9

Let’s decline the pieces of temptation this world is holding out and go to Jesus. He will give us rest and, friend, it will be good.

PIECE 2 – JOB SECURITY

The second of thirty pieces we pull from the gift pouch that Jesus has given us is labeled JOB SECURITY. Times are tough. Unemployment has affected many and for others it lurks around the corner like a bully waiting for his next target. The second important piece reminds us that our real job is officially called Fisher of Men. In this role, we know that we will never get laid off and that our earnings are eternal. There are no stock market crashes or bad investments in Heaven.

Jesus said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Telling people about Jesus is to reel their hearts close to Him. Telling people about Jesus and making them disciples is our simple but Earth-changing job description. (Matthew 28:19) The Bible is our employee handbook that emboldens us to pursue this new career path with the same zeal as a man who fished the same sea of souls over 400 years ago. Martin Luther, the man from Germany known for nailing his ninety-five theses to a Wittenberg chapel door, had a ‘performance review’ of sorts with a groups of judges who were trying to convict him of heresy.

Luther said, “What I read in the Scriptures is truth-for no church leader, council, king, or emperor, all of whom are fallible men, can tell me otherwise…my conscience is bound and held captive by these Scriptures and the Word of God….”  We need to follow Jesus. He alone will make us men and women who boldy share the gospel. Like Luther, we too will proclaim what our Savior did on the cross as the greatest story needed to be told.

The apostle Paul understood the gift of real job security as he went from  persecutor to full time evangelist. Paul made tents to pay the bills, but after following Jesus on the road to Damascus, the tent making wasn’t where he put his focus. Whether we are truck drivers, teachers, brain surgeons, or _______, our responsibilty has to be on telling other people about Jesus. Our current occupation is not our security. Jesus is!

“It has alwalys been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” Paul wrote these to the church in Rome and it is a perfect mission statement for us today. Remember, this doesn’t have to mean the unreached people groups in Ghana (although for some, it might!). The gospel might not be known in your employee lounge or, as in Luther’s case, your church. When we follow Jesus, He will make the opportunities to be a witness for His story plentiful. Our job is to obey.

Let us fight against the temptation that the world offers: “You already have a job. It’s secure. Leave that evangelizing stuff for someone else.” Dear friend, God has you in your current job to be a light for someone who works alongside you. The gift of eternal job security will make your heart cry out in praise as you see the fruits of your labor.

PIECE 3-HEALING

The third treasure piece is labeled HEALING. We smile and think about our Savior as the Great Healer. In Matthew’s gospel alone, there are nine recorded times when Jesus healed people. And within those accounts, we are told that Jesus healed many more people who followed him. When this life brings sickness and pain, Jesus heals.

The prophet Isaiah said of Jesus: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (53:4) In the New Testament, we read many accounts of Jesus healing people. We are told that He went throughout Galilee “healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Word spread and soon people from all over the region brought “all who were ill” and Jesus healed them all. (Matt. 4:23-25)

In the eighth chapter of Matthew, we find four separate accounts of Jesus healing people. A man with leprosy came and knelt down before the Lord, and with amazing faith, said that Jesus could heal his condition. The man added, “If you are willing.” Jesus replied, “I am willing.” The man was healed. Next we learn of a Roman centurion whose servant was suffering. The soldier went to Jesus and presented the situation. Jesus said that He would go and heal the servant. The soldier tells Jesus that he isn’t worthy and that he knows all Jesus has to do is say the word and the servant would be healed. Jesus applauds the man’s faith and we learn that the servant was healed “at that very hour.” (Matt. 8:5-13)

I believe the most important aspect of the Lord’s healing power in our lives, is found in the ninth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Take time to let this part of Scripture resonate with the deepest part of your soul. It is a beautiful truth that will set us free, especially when the times of pain and suffering draw near. Jesus was in Capernaum, and some men brought Him a paralytic to heal. Jesus saw the faith of the men and said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” He healed the man’s spiritual affliction first and then healed his physical pain!

By God’s grace, I experienced the healing touch of the Lord. I worked alongside a man named Larry who loved Jesus very much. At the time, Larry was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and one in every hundred people had a tumor like Larry’s. “God is gracious,” my friend said. “If I’m that lucky one, ninety-nine other souls still have time to begin a relationship with the Lord.”

Larry and I had worked in the same school for three years and shared nothing more than a greeting. The next year, we co-taught in the same classroom. One day he told me about a beautiful work of art, painted with brilliant colors; a splendor-soaked masterpiece called Salvation. The Healer’s masterpiece. I soon realized that I was one of the ninety-nine souls that was seeing this eternal art for the first time. Funny how the Healer orchestrates things. Three months before Larry passed away, I surrendered my life to the Lord and was able to tell Larry the good news.

Dear Friend, if you’ve been saved, praise His mighty name and rejoice! If you’re still sitting in life’s waiting room, wondering how long it will take to get real answers, Jesus invites you in to his love so that your heart wounds may be healed forever.

PIECE 4-LOVE

The fourth gift we pull out of the bag Jesus has given us in exchange for the shallow gifts of the world is labeled LOVE. The purest and most holy love of all. Only with that love does the God of the Universe love you. The One who made you, loves your heart more than anything. There is nothing that will fill your heart the way the Father’s love will. His Word is full of promises that not only does He love us, He is love. (1 John 4:8) Love comes from God (1 John 4:7). We feel loved by our friends and family, but the love of our Savior goes so much deeper.

God’s loves us because we are His children: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1) Scripture paints beautiful pictures of how real God’s love for us is: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)  Nothing will or can get between God’s love for you and your heart. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)

God doesn’t need us, but He wants a relationship with His children. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) I could never allow one of my children to die as payment for another human’s mistakes. He loved us so much that He allowed His only son, Jesus, to be nailed to a cross as atonement for our sins. Hold your hands high and receive Heaven’s free gift of true love. Your heart will be forever glad.

PIECE 5-OPEN DOORS

The gifts Jesus has given us so far include rest, healing, job security, and love. Next, we reach into the treasured bag that our Savior has given us and pull out a coin labeled OPEN DOORS. This gift, like the others, is offered to us so that we may experience the riches of God’s kingdom as we walk the earthly paths He has laid before us. To understand this piece of God’s grace, we need to start at 2 Corinthians 2:12 and look at the apostle Paul’s visit to a town called Troas.

He writes upon arrival that “the Lord had opened a door for me.” Paul had gone there to “preach the gospel of Christ” and testified to both his contemporaries as well as modern day believers that it is Jesus who paves the way on which our lives will travel. The Lord opened a door of opportunity for Paul and He is waiting to do the same for us. Two verses later, Paul proclaims further proof that God has us right where He wants us: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” (v.14)

This past week, I have felt the phrase least of these planted in my heart. Jesus says that whatever we do for one of the least of these (those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, need clothes, sick, or in prison), we do for Him. Just a sample of chapters 8-20 of Matthew’s gospel shows us that Jesus healed a man with a skin disease, gave sight to four blind men, exorcized demons from two men, a boy and a girl. Those nine people were the ‘least’ in their society, but Jesus saw all of them as important. What a glorious Savior we have that leads us as only the Good Shepherd can.

How does this connect to the gift of open doors of opportunity? I see open doors, not as man-made physical barriers of wood or metal, but God-made people–human beings made in the image of the Creator! Specifically, people who are hungry, thirsty, and in need of the Savior.

Back to Paul. After his Damascus road experience, where he literally got knocked off his high horse, his sole purpose was to share the gospel. He desired more than anything to walk through the open doors (of people’s hearts) and leave them the gift of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul was sold out for Jesus. Jesus gave his life for all. Realizing that everything we do should point people to Christ, open doors are a beautiful sight to behold and treasure.

It’s amazing and exciting to realize that Jesus wants us, calls us, to be vessels (jars of clay) that hold the light, His light, which sweeps away the shadows of sin and guides people from every nation and tongue to a personal relationship with Him. Through open doors, we have have the opportunity to share the Light of the world with the world. What a gift.

Jesus says in Revelation 3:20 that He stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come eat with him, and he with me.” Did you catch that? Remember that one of the ‘least’ are those that are hungry. When we trust Jesus as our Savior and repent, He satisfies all of our hunger pains and cures us from the sickness of sin. We finally cross over from darkness into life.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, remember what an exquisite vessel of God you are. Pray and receive the gift of open doors. Walk through them and make disciples of all the nations!

PIECE 6- HEAVEN

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” He was telling them that as they went about doing Kingdom work, He was all they needed. Jesus is our Provider and Giver. He sustains life. And as we’ve seen so far in our journey, Jesus has given us gifts that are more valuable than anything we will ever find in this world. Gold and silver. Don’t need them. Extra things? No. Just Jesus.

The next token that we pull from our gift bag that Jesus gives us has the word HEAVEN engraved on it. Jesus said, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:43) God made us in his image and filled us with the hope of eternal life. This world is not the end. Our Savior is truthful and has promised us that one day we will be in the Father’s kingdom! Turning the coin over and over, we think about how life-changing this gift of Heaven really is for us while we are still on earth.

Heaven is a place of worship. We will one day join all of God’s children in worshipping the One who breathed life into us. Heaven is a place of endless treasure and blessing. The wonderful thing is that the Lord allows us to experience and see a piece of heaven here on earth. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10) Heaven is complete freedom from the effects of sin. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20) No more death. No more decay.

The gift of Heaven also plants hope in our hearts, because our forever home is not here on earth, but with God. Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth regarding this truth: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1) Jesus tells us that the Father’s house has many rooms and the He has gone ahead and prepared a place for us. (John 14:2,3) And, better still, He will come back and take us there!

Heaven is eternal Paradise where we will forever worship the King of Kings! At the end of Revelation, John records how he had fallen down to worship at the feet of an angel. The angel replied, “Do not do it! I am a fellows servant with you and your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (22:8,9) The amazing gift of heaven that is to come, helps us focus on what is truly important. Namely, worshipping the King. Let’s pause and think about all the ways the Lord has blessed and thank Him with lifted hands. Our gift of Heaven reminds us that our hands are also raised because Jesus has freed us fom sin’s chains. Heaven also rains down hope as we eagerly wait for our Savior’s return.

Thank you Jesus for giving your life on the cross, so that we may be able to be in heaven with you forever. We love you, Lord!

PIECE 7-LIGHT

What a precious, priceless gift we have in Jesus! Through Him, we find salvation. In Him, we receive life. True life, where not a day passes that we feel in need. If this is your first visit to Thirty Pieces, I invite you to go back to the beginning and read the first six posts in the series. If you’ve been with us from the start, thank you. Either way, I hope these posts stir something in your heart and awaken your soul to everything the Lord has planned for your life.

When we feel alone and unwanted, unloved or unneeded, we know that these are feelings the enemy of lies is trying to make us believe. He wants nothing else than to convince us that you and I are walking the path of life alone. For once we feel alone, it is easy to let the door open a little wider for more of the enemy’s lies to enter. With each lie, more follow, pushing the door to our worlds all the way open. The enemy fills the world with the darkness of his lies and our hearts cannot see the truth even though it’s right before our eyes. We might even begin to doubt God. Dear brothers and sisters, do not fear. God has never left our sides.

What do we do to know and experience life the way God meant for us to? Jesus is the only way…the only answer. If you have come to this post alone, without Jesus, I pray that you would surrender your life to Him (the only one who died for you so that you could truly live). Friend, trust me, when I say that I am praying for you. Ask the King of Kings to rescue you and wrap you in His might arms forever! If you have come here already a believer, forgiven by the blood of the Lamb praise His holy name! He has another great gift for us today. We reached into the bag of pieces and pull one out that has been engraved with the word Light.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) At another moment in His ministry, Jesus warned that “night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4,5) We are offered the light of the world so that our paths may never be shrouded in darkness. Again, our Lord reminds us: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46)

This light is such a vital gift for us. The Bible is filled with accounts of how crucial it really is. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:5) The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2) The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. (Isaiah 60:19)

The apostle Paul wrote the perfect action statement for us in his letter to the Roman church. “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”(Romans 13:12) Jesus in our hearts gives us the ability to avoid the darkness that this world provides. The moment we surrender our lives to Him, He guides us out of our current darkness–Though I sit in darkness,the Lord will be my light. (Micah 7:8)–and keeps us on the path that leads away from it: Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. (Psalm 89:15)

The darkness isn’t where we were made to live. Rejoice with me in thanking Jesus for His gift of Light. As we go through each day, let us keep our Bibles open and study His word. Then we can be confident we are following our Savior to the places He wants us to be. (Psalm 119:105)

PIECE 8-FREEDOM

We have been saved to serve.

As a child of God, you are part of a blessed lineage: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12) And being a part of this spiritual family means that we are free from the chains of sin. We have received God-given freedom to move and serve his people in order that His holy name be glorified.

Warning: Freedom does not equal an easy, carefree life. Service that glorifies God might not look like a typical “church” project. Consider Abraham. God asked him to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him up as a burnt sacrifice. Can you imagine? Abraham obeyed, taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, in accordance to God’s command. Amazing is the fact that Mount Moriah is where Jesus, God’s only son, was sacrificed for the sins of the world. Just before Abraham took his knife to complete the task, the angel of the Lord stopped him. God said, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17)

Years later, a famine came to the land and God commanded Isaac to stay where he was and be blessed. Isaac planted a crop and reaped a hundredfold, “because the Lord blessed him.” He soon became rich and then very wealthy. The Philistines grew jealous of Isaac’s prosperity and forced him to move. God came to Isaac and told him not to fear. He appeared to him in his time of need. Both Abraham and Isaac were obedient to the service that God had called them to. Both were saved to serve.

God saves us to take away our fears so that we may further His kingdom by our newfound freedom. What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-5) You might not feel like a king, but by God’s grace it’s not how you feel but how He feels about you! In His word, your heavenly Father has told you how he defines your true worth. “So God created man in his own image.”(Genesis 1:27) Talk about seeing something awesome the next time you look in the mirror!

You are a child of God, not a failure. You are the Creator’s reflection, not a picture of despair. You are royalty in the eyes of the Father, not an unnoticed, unappreciated servant. Simply put, you are priceless and that is truth that empowers you to serve Him!

The psalmist said, “O Lord, truly I am your servant–you have freed me from my chains.” (116:16). And, “I will walk about in freedom for I have sought out your precepts.” (119:45) When we follow our selfish desires, we are bound to the emptiness that follows in the wake of accumulating material things. We enslave ourselves to false promises and fools gold. We serve ourselves and remain chained to our selfishness. But, when we serve the Lord in the way He asks us to serve Him, we are free to live life the way God meant for us to live it: to love Him and to love each other!

Feel the freedom that has been given to you from Heaven. Go through this day renewed by your Creator’s mighty power. Without fear, let Him be your light and eagerly look for ways to shine and serve!

PIECE 9-MERCY

mer-cy (n.): “compassion or forebearance shown especially to an offender… <as God shows to a sinner>” -Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary 1977

I just found this definition in a dictionary that belonged to my grandfather. I love how the people who put the dictionary together used God and our relationship to Him as the first example of mercy. Praise His holy name! Another priceless gift that Jesus offers us is this very same mercy. It is most powerful to understand mercy as the word was used in the Psalms. There we find what the psalmist was asking mercy for and how the Lord’s mercy sets us free.

“Be merciful to me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4)…Mercy means that the God of all Heaven and Earth hears you and wants to hear what’s on your heart. “Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death” (Psalm 9)…Mercy that Jesus gives us means even though our physical bodies will pass away, we will not because Jesus will lift us up to be with Him in Paradise! Even Psalm 16 confirms this amazing gift: “you will not abandon me to the grave.”

“Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways…” (Psalm 25) Mercy that Jesus offers brings us back to the definition we started with: The Lord’s great mercy through the work of Jesus on the cross allows Him to forgive us of our transgressions. If not for Jesus and what he did for us, we would not know mercy. Our souls would drowned in sin.

“…Be merciful to me. My feet stand on level ground…” (Psalm 26) When God sheds His mercies over us, we are finally able to walk each day knowing that He has made our paths straight. Not perfect days filled with sunshine and happiness, but days that are secure in Him. NOTHING life throws at us EVER CATHCES GOD OFF GUARD! “Be merciful to me and answer me…” (Psalm 27) Not only does Jesus want to hear what we have to say, but He loves us so much that He promises to answer when we call to Him! “He has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield…” (Psalm 28) God’s mercy becomes tangible as we receive strength to endure hardships and as we feel His protection from others or situations that try to bring harm.

“Be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help.” (Psalm 30) God shows us that His compassion for us as His children helps us from the time we get up until the time we go to sleep. The Bible also says that He helps us while we are sleeping. Our God is loving on us even when we are unaware and dreaming: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” -Psalm 3:5 “Be merciful to me O Lord, for I am in distress.” (Psalm 31) Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced stress. Perfect. All of us have our hands raised. The mercy of Christ teaches us that we have overcome the problems of this life. By His mercy, we begin to see trials and opportunities as ways to glorify His holy name. “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them ALL!” -Psalm 34:19

God’s compassion showers us in His mercy. With this gift, He hears our prayers, saves us, forgives us, keeps us on solid ground, answers us, gives us strength and protects us, helps us, and promises to take away our stress. Thank you Jesus for your gift of mercy. We don’t deserve this, but we love you for it. Help us be merciful as you are merciful.

PIECE 10-TRUST

Jesus offers his children so many wonderful gifts. In our journey to unwrap thirty of these life-changing rewards, we have received things such as true love, eternal life, rest, and mercy. This next gift that pull from the Lord’s gift bag is inscribed with the word TRUST. Jesus loves you. He offers you eternal life. He gives you rest. And with this next heavenly treasure, His is our trustworthy savior. He is our best friend who will never lie to us. Ever. All throughout the gospels accounts Jesus said, “I tell you the truth…” before making impactful statments that altered the listeners lives forever.

We can trust Jesus. Period. He doesn’t lie. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) In our world of advertising and Hollywood, image is king. In our hearts, Jesus is King. He died so that we may live. He proved on the cross, as He took all of our sins to the grave, that if we believe what He says and live life accordingly, Jesus will guide our paths. Our entire life journey is through Him, so we can trust Him that what today brings is all part of His trustworthy plan for our lives.

I believe the enemy uses our materialistic culture to insulate us from this gift of trusting Jesus. With all of my worldly possessions, I still worry. I also believe that when I worry it is the same as me telling God, “You know Lord, I know you created the universe, but this financial debt pit I’m in…I have to worry about it. The bills are piling up and the cash isn’t.” Maybe your ‘worry’ issue isn’t debt. Maybe its a family deal. Or a work thing. Whatever ‘it’ is, you worry but no clear change happens with the situation. Here is my typical worry cycle: a stressful event…I worry…stressful event…I pray…I worry and pray…I pray and worry. Praise the Lord that He has a way out of this.

For the solution, we have to turn to the end of Luke chapter 10 where we find the familiar story of Martha and Mary. Even though you know what happens, please read on. Two siblings, Martha and Mary, were blessed to have Jesus over to their house for a visit. How awesome would that be? Quick background: Martha was the distracted sister who tended to the dinner preparations while Mary sat at our Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. I love the truthfulness of Scripture. God’s word contains real-life, stressful situations so we can relate to it. Martha tried telling Jesus what to do: “She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work myself? Tell her to help me!” Wow, Martha was one gutsy lady. She hadn’t trusted Jesus…yet. The Lord replied, “Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary chose to take her life and set it at the Lord’s feet. She went to his presence and turned her eyes to be able to see his face. And, best of all, she listened to what he had to say. Jesus said that it is better to listen to his words than worry about life’s problems. He wants us to trust that his words and instructions are always better that anything this life might lead us to believe.

Trust. It’s a gift the Lord gives that keeps us by his side. And, by his side is the best place to be!

PIECE 11-LIFE

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Jesus spoke those words to a woman named Martha from the town of Bethany. Martha’s brother, Lazarus, had been very sick and eventually died. Martha was upset because she had sent for the Lord days earlier, but it seemed as if Jesus took his time in arriving to heal his sick friend.

We’ve already discussed a similar gift, eternal life, that Jesus extends to His children. I believe that within these words our Savior spoke to Martha, a different gift is ours to receive and experience: the gift of life. Life where we don’t just suffer through the work week and feel renewed on Sunday, but life that is born from belief in the One that died for us. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to life and offers us the same life-changing gift today!

We could fill pages and pages with things this world has to offer that make us feel “alive.” The term creature comforts prompts our desires in different directions, but in the end we all feel better because of them.  From the coffee maker or microwave, to the hair dryer or television, we feel better knowing they are at our disposal. On the same line, we could add vacations, electronic toys, smart phones and so on…These things aren’t wrong. They’re blessings, but true LIFE like the life Jesus has for us has nothing to do with these.

One of the first disciples that Jesus called was a man named Nathanael. He had his doubts when another disciple told him that the Messiah had finally come. Jesus approached Nathanael and called to him. Nathanael immediately declared Jesus to be the Son of God, to which Jesus replied, “You shall see greater things…” (John 1:50) This greater living in the Lord is also spoken of in 1 Corinthians 2:9 where the apostle Paul echoes the words of Isaiah: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” To grab hold of what real living looks like, we need to go back and look at the reason Jesus waited to return to Bethany to help his friends.

When Jesus first received word that Lazarus was ill, the Bible tells us that Jesus stayed where he was for two days. (A brief side note: when it feels like God isn’t listening or not answering your prayers, please remember this vital truth of how Jesus answered Martha’s plea!) The Lord’s reason for waiting was for, “God’s glory so that the Son may be glorified through it.” Real living glorifies God by glorifying Jesus. When we live with the hope that everything we do will glorify God and Jesus, life will become unlike anything we’ve imagined.

A second truth that helps us grab hold of the gift of LIFE that Jesus offers is found in a second statement He made in Bethany. “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” (John 11:14,15) Real living creates an opportunity for others to believe. Just before raising Lazarus, Jesus looked up to heaven and said “for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Dear friends, let us accept and live the real life that Jesus offers. The life that glorifies our Creator and Savior and the one that leads other people to the Father’s heart. When we live that life, we will be in for a personal transformation that we can’t begin to imagine and we will be showered in the amazing things God has planned for us!

PIECE 12-PEACE

In our crazy, hectic world it’s easy to get lost in the chaos of life. Job challenges. Family responsibilities. We search to find the opposite of chaos. Namely, we search for peace. The word comes from the Latin word pax that referred to a time of stability or security. Life is full of ups and downs and most times might feel anything but stable or secure. That’s why this next gift that Jesus offers is really unique. The PEACE of Jesus reaches into our hearts past the stresses and fears of this life and calms our souls. His peace stabilizes the frantic pace of our daily grind and lets us know that we have true security.

When I get my child a gift, I usually go to the store and buy a game or toy that someone else made. But, when Jesus gives a gift, He is author and creator of the gift! For example, the prophet Isaiah called Jesus the Prince of Peace! So when Jesus offers us the gift of His peace, it is so much more than a feeling. In the New Testament book of Colossians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” He’s saying over every other desire, pursuit, or passion, let the beautiful gift of the Lord’s peace reign.

To the church in Corinth, Paul wrote that our God is the God of love and peace and that he is with us (2 Corinthians 13:11). To the church at Ephesus, Paul said that Jesus is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). To the church at Philippi, Paul states, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) The gift of our Lord’s peace will saturate our hearts and will protect our minds. It will help us realize that anything that brings discord is not from God.

There’s more. This gift of peace that our Savior made by his blood on the cross (Colossians 1:20) is such a key gift for our time on earth that the Bible displays its importance across the Testaments. Ezekiel shows us how God talks about the covenant of peace He makes with his children (Ezekiel 34:25) and the early church was reminded of the same: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Jesus, our precious savior, had beautiful words for us about the gift of His peace. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” When we spend our days in Jesus (in His Word and prayer) instead of wandering around the world’s gift shops looking for earthly treasure, we will have peace. Praise His holy name!

Jesus has overcome every bad day we will ever have. He has overcome every pain we may ever suffer. And, praise be to the Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ has overcome death! Let us cherish and live each of our days in His gift of peace.

PIECE 13 – FRIENDSHIP

Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.” We’ve been unwrapping eternal gifts that Jesus is waiting to give us and how those gifts will shape our minds and hearts as we walk through our daily lives. This next gift our Lord gives us to open, FRIENDSHIP, is a present that our Savior wants to use to liberate us from the lies our enemy would have us believe.

Jesus always speaks the truth. He reminds us of this when he said, “I am the  way and the truth and the life.” Jesus is truth. And when we receive the gift of His friendship, we enter into a special bond unlike any other. This is a hard concept for me to wrap my brain around. The Savior of the World wants to be my friend? The Holy One desires to treat me as a friend? The Lord Almighty seeks out my life and loves to know how my day is going? Yes, yes, and, yes!

Jesus spoke to the people he did life with in this very fashion: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.” It’s easy to read right over the phrase my friends, because in today’s culture the word is used loosely to describe people in our inner circles who may in fact be nothing more than kind acquaintances. But when we look at how the word was used in Scriptures a beautiful picture of how much Jesus thinks about you and me is painted. 

The Greek word for friend is ‘philos’which means someone dearly loved (prized) in a personal, intimate way; a trusted confidant, held dear in a close bond of personal affection. (HelpsBible.com) When the world tells us that our lives are meaningless, or that we don’t matter Jesus calls us friend. When someone says that we aren’t good enough, Jesus says we are his prized possessions!

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus said this to his disciples and when we open our Bibles and read the same words, an arresting truth appears. You are such a true friend of Jesus that there is no greater love that anyone will ever be able to give you. He loves you more than anything and He proved it when he lay down his life on the cross!

By position, we are no longer slaves to this world or anything it has to offer. We are adopted sons and daughters of the Living God! Jesus extends his hands to us in friendship so we may avoid the legalistic approach to relationships and our faith walk. Real friends don’t keep a record of wrongs, just as our heavenly Father doesn’t hold on to even one of our sins: as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12) Friendship with Jesus is the only bond that will help us know how loved and forgiven we really are.

PIECE 14- BREAD of LIFE

We all want something. More money. Cheaper gas. Restored health. On the spiritual side of things, our hearts might even long to see prodigal family members return home to the open arms of Christ. The desire that we may have for these things is satisfied in the next gift Jesus has for us to unwrap. In our pouch of 30 Pieces we now pull out one marked BREAD of LIFE. This treaure of holy food satisfies all of our earthly and spiritual appetites. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.”

The Israelites learned about this in the desert when they we so hungry that their minds seemingly stopped thinking about truth. God had set them free the bondages in Egypt, but instead of praise coming from their lips, a venomous complaint poured over the Sinai sand and into the ears of Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16) My initial reaction: “Are you serious? You were just liberated from bondage. How can you wish you were dead?” And then I look in the mirror and see that I am just like them. I find myself worrying (and complaining) about life’s problems and how God’s going to solve them, even though Jesus tells me not to worry. When we worry, we are telling God that where He has us doesn’t measure up to the way we think things should be.

Despite the Israelites complaint, God showered them with His unending grace in the form of manna. Fast forward to John’s gospel. There Jesus says,”I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

In Exodus, Moses and Aaron also received instructions from God about the first Passover meal. Part of the meal was “bread made without yeast.” This was to symbolize the haste in which the Israelites fled Egypt. Jesus instituted the Last Supper on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread! And we can’t forget that when Jesus fed the 5,000, He took five loaves of bread and not only fed the masses but had twelve baskets with the leftovers.

It’s as if Jesus is saying that we should strive to live ‘unleavened’ lives. He knows we would be better off not filling our days with worldly possessions that make us feel full only to leave us wanting more. Jesus is our daily and eternal provision, but even better, He is our Bread of Life…the end toward which we run; in His presence alone is where we are completely satisfied. Our lives filled with Jesus become like the miracle on the hill where our Lord blesses us beyond what we could ever dream of.

PIECE 15- COURAGE

So far on our journey, we’ve received fourteen gifts from Jesus. Fourteen pieces of our Savior’s heart. These gifts allow us to become more like Him. The names of each have been etched in stone to remind us they are eternal. We spread them out to get a snapshot of the generous heart of our Savior. We see that he has given us REST. JOB SECURITY. HEALING. LOVE. OPEN DOORS. HEAVEN. LIGHT. FREEDOM. MERCY. TRUST. LIFE. PEACE. FRIENDSHIP. BREAD of LIFE.

Our fifteenth piece of the Lord’s giving heart is COURAGE. With this blessing we are able to overcome impossible odds and move mountains for the Lord’s kingdom.  To see how this gift of courage works we turn to Matthew’s gospel where Jesus walked on water. The specifics of the event add more meaning to the miracle. It was somewhere between three and six in the morning. The disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee while a strong wind whipped the water into threatening waves. Terrified, the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and were filled with fear. Enter Peter. He tells Jesus to call him, so that Peter may also walk on water.

“Come,” Jesus said. And Peter got out of the boat and walked on water. Jesus gives us the courage to be able to far surpass human ability when we face life’s challenges, or when we need to step out in faith but have have been afraid of the unknown. When we choose to let life distract us, like Peter who saw the wind, we start to sink. Jesus saved Peter just like He saves us.

After Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, Peter remembered that night on the sea when the Lord gave him real courage. Peter tapped into that supernatural strength as he proclaimed the gospel message and witnessed 3,000 people baptized and added to the kingdom. This was Peter getting out of a different boat called fear and stepping out onto the water of God’s will.

On two different accounts in the Old Testament we see this same pattern play out. Moses spoke these words to his successor, Joshua: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) King David said almost the exact same thing when he spoke to his son Solomon about building the temple: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chron. 28:20)

When the Lord says, “Come,” we will get out of the boat of self/fear and go to where Jesus is. We, like Peter, Joshua, and Solomon will do the work he planned for us in advance and we will do it with the courage of our Savior.

PIECE 16-HUMILITY

Reaching into the bag of gifts that our Savior has given us, we grab another token labeled HUMILITY.

Our minds and hearts are still overwhelmed by the blessings of the previous fifteen pieces Jesus has freely given. This next spiritual present helps us walk away from the world’s offerings that tempt us to prideful behavior by becoming a humble servant of the Lord. Like Him, we will be satisfied by a lifestyle that allows us to lift others up as we glorify God.

There are three major events in the life of Christ where His humility tore down the walls of pride and built up the hearts of those He loved. His birth. His life. And His death. These three shows us that when we use the Lord’s gift of humility, we set ourselves directly in the center of God’s will for our lives.

Birth:“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) Our Good Shepherd, through whom ALL things were made, chose to leave his throne and take on the burden of flesh and bone for you and me. You are that important to Jesus! He came down from heaven to walk among His sheep. We have a beautiful record of this in the Bible: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Life: In humility, love serves. Just before Jesus was handed over to be crucified, he washed his disciples feet. It was during the Last Supper (John 13), Jesus took the dirt from His disciples feet and carried on the towel around His waist. Jesus told his friends, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (v.8). Unless we humble ourselves and serve others, they won’t see Jesus. When we apply this gift of the Lord’s humility, we show the people around us the love of Christ that they won’t see anywhere else. Becoming humble means we let Jesus “wash us.” We let Him take away the dirt in our lives and praise Him for that forgiveness only He can give! We let Jesus tell us how and where our lives should go. Verse 14: “Wash one another’s feet.” Verse 15: “You should do as I have done.” Let us become like our Savior and humbly do the tasks that lift others up so they may be closer to Jesus.

Death: Oh how much love serves that the Lord of ALL would humble Himself for us. He was stripped of his clothes.  Made to wear a crown of thorns. Endured the centurian’s whip. Stood their and felt the soldiers’ spit. “They took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again.” (Matt. 27:30)  Carried the cross. Nailed to it. Felt the weight of our sin…

Jesus went through that torture for you and me! He went through it so we could be with Him forever. “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people…” (Hebrews 9:28) This tells us how the gift of Humility was made. Let us put this life-changing gift to good use by becoming servants who lift others up so that they may see Jesus. Let us endure the hard times of this world because we know that God is with us forever and He deserves the glory!

PIECE 17-NARROW GATE

I came up with the term Broad Road Masquerade to describe life without God. Our next gift that Jesus has ready for us is the NARROW GATE. He says in the seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” When we are with Jesus, He leads us away from life’s masquerade to life everlasting.

This gift of the Narrow Gate is crucial. I believe there are two important aspects to this gift. First, JESUS is the Narrow Gate and through Him alone we are saved. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” For the believer who is walking in the light, there is a second blessing to this gift. After Jesus saves us, we need to walk through the gate into the life that He has waiting for us: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

How does this translate into daily living? How does the life-changing gift of the Narrow Gate help us stay in the Lord’s will?

I’m so excited to share a lesson God is teaching me how this “not judging” relates to our new gift of the Narrow Gate. If we rewind a bit, we see that Jesus was talking about not judging others. By God’s grace, I finally figured out that Jesus here is also telling me, “Do not judge God!”

Here’s a personal note that I pray will help you out today, wherever you are and whatever your job. My wife and I love Ethiopia. We adopted our youngest son from Addis Ababa three years ago and we’ve been able to return there the past two summers for short-term mission trips. When we are there, I see God like I’ve never seen him before. Over here in Texas, I am a public school teacher. I know that the classroom is a mission field, but if I may be honest, I want to be on the African mission field instead. But I see how this is judging God, because for now the Narrow Gate that He has led me through opens up onto a classroom full of wonderful children.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3) The Lord’s gift of the Narrow Gate helps open my eyes to His calling for my life. Thank goodness! Remember how we started this post? The Broad Road Masquerade isn’t limited to worldly pleasures of the material kind. The masquerade also deals with selfish pursuits. I’m on the Broad Road and haven’t fully received the Narrow Gate gift if I’m telling God where it is I should be serving Him.

The next thing Jesus tells us just before mentioning the Narrow Gate gift is the awesome Ask, Seek, Knock message. Friends, the door that we’re told to knock on isn’t a garage door. And it most definitely isn’t a barn door. This is a narrow “front door” and Jesus is the only One waiting to open it for us! Amen.

Praise God for the Narrow Gate. Wherever He has us today is right where we need to be. Someone walking the other way needs Jesus. They need to know where the Narrow Gate is. Take them there and rejoice with the angels. Remember, don’t be afraid because God is with us and has given us His power to accomplish His will.

PIECE 18-HOPE

hope: 1. to cherish a desire with anticipation; 2. to desire with expectation of obtainment.

The next gift that Jesus has for us is HOPE. This is a precious gift that anchors our hearts to the Truth. In the churning waters of life, heavenly hope keeps us tethered to our Savior and His eternal promises. Psalm 33 shows us how this next piece of the Lord’s treasure lifts our eyes above the fray of life’s demands: “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love… We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.  In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” Hope that Jesus gives teaches us patience and reminds us how much we are loved by the King!

Let’s take our definition of hope and insert it into a handful of verses that speak of this gift to see the power of the Lord’s promise.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my [desire to be with you forever] is in you all day long. -Psalm 25:5

No one who [desires being with you forever] will ever be put to shame. -Psalm 25:3

[Desire] the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; -Psalm 37:34

For what you have done I will always praise you in the presence of your faithful people. And I will [cherish and desire] your name, for your name is good. -Psalm 52:9

Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I [cherish and desire] your laws. -Psalm 119:43

You are my refuge and my shield; I [desire and cherish] your word. -Psalm 119:114

Those who [cherish and desire] the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. -Isaiah 40:31

And [cherishing Jesus] does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. -Romans 5:5

And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will [desire and cherish Him].” -Romans 15:12

May the God [who cherishes you] fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with [desire for Him] by the power of the Holy Spirit. -Romans 15:13

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our [eternal desire], -1 Timothy 1:1

That is why we labor and strive, because we [cherish] the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. -1 Timothy 4:10

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their [desires] in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to [cherish] God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. -1 Timothy 6:17

Having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs [as we never stop desiring and cherishing] eternal life [with Jesus]. -Titus 3:7

[Our desire is Jesus. We cherish Him. He is] an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain… -Hebrews 6:19

Dear friend, I pray that you see how much the God of the Universe loves you and how much he desires a real relationship with you. Everyday. Forever. Cherish Jesus above all things and eagerly wait to see all that He has in store for you!

PIECE 19-FORGIVENESS

My original plan in mapping out thirty gifts that Jesus offers us was to end with the gift of Forgiveness. At first, I thought that was the greatest of all these spiritual presents and therefore should come last. After contemplating the true power of the Lord’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of ALL our sins (past, present, and future!), I smiled. Forgiveness can’t wait until the end of this journey. We need it now. The book of Hebrews says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”(9:22) I can’t wake up one day, decide to do good deeds and be saved. Only the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, is the atonement needed to cover my sin problem. On my own I can do nothing. The apostle Paul wrote of this reality to the early believers in Ephesus: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) The beautiful gift of God’s forgiveness to save us from all of our sins comes by crying out to our Savior and surrendering our lives to Him. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

John’s gospel tells a moving story about a Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well who had five former husbands. She finally found true love with Christ. After her time spent drinking the living water that Jesus offers, the woman was free to serve the Lord by proclaiming His glory. She had felt His forgiveness and it opened her eyes to look past herself to people who didn’t know Jesus. The result of her new mission was changed lives: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (John 4:39) Peter told Cornelius, “All the prophets testify about [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

The importance of this gift Jesus offers us is beautifully displayed in the fifth chapter of Luke. A paralytic man was carried by friends to Jesus in hopes of healing. The crowd that had come to hear Jesus preach was so large that the friends had to take the man up on the roof of the house. They devised a plan and lowered the man through the roof tiles, down “into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.” (Luke 5:19) When do our lives make the most sense? When we bring them to the feet of Jesus. Which leads us to an amazing discovery. Luke’s account shows us how important Forgiveness is to our Savior. He saw the lengths the men went to so their brother might be healed. Jesus turned to the sick man and said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Before Jesus fixes the man, he forgives! What matters most to Jesus? When we have a relationship with Him where we walk as forgiven sons and daughters of the Most High! Jesus healed the paralytic man and told him to take his mat and go. All the way home, he praised God, so much so we read that everyone who saw him also praised God.

What a clear mission statement for our lives today: Be transparent with Jesus. Tell Him what’s on our hearts and confess our sins. Remember He died for us so that His forgiveness can heal our deepest self-inflicted sin wounds. Keep our lives right in front of Jesus. And may we praise God all of our days for His glory and so others around us might do the same!

PIECE 20-STRENGTH

When I think of the word strength I think of exercising. We can go to the gym and lift weights to increase our arm strength. We might even make a habit out of running to develop leg strength. But, when it comes to real strength, only Jesus gives us what we need to be “heart” strong. The Bible says, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”- (2 Chronicles 16:9) Our next gift that Jesus has for us, STRENGTH, isn’t just physical power, but the miraculous opportunity to live life like God intends for us.

The life we’ve been given is for loving the Lord and loving others. After all, if we go all the way back to Eden we sense the simplicity and beauty of life the way God designed it be lived. God made man in His image and placed him in paradise to be in relationship with Himself and each other. Thousands of years later, sin has clouded our vision, making us think that somehow WE can discipline ourselves long and hard enough to be STRONG for whatever life throws our way.

Instead, when we realize this and seek to love the One who gave us life and seek to love others, we are filled with the same strength that made the galaxies, the Grand Canyon, and even raised Jesus from the dead! By doing so, we become a light in our dark world so that everyone may see Him for who He really is. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” -(Deuteronomy 6:5) With every thing we do, the Lord’s gift of strength, helps us love Him and others because His strength is supernatural.

This is a vital thread running through the Old Testament. Nehemiah undertook a very strenuous task of rebuilding the city wall around Jerusalem. He had a lot of detractors. Many people hoped he’d quit. His spirit for the project was weak. In the middle of it all, Nehemiah prayed: “Now strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah used his hands to love the Lord and through the answering of his prayer, the Lord filled him with supernatural power to complete the task!

Job declared the same truth, “you have strengthened my feeble hands.” -(Job 4:3) Psalm 119:28 says, “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” And the prophet Isaiah wrote, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” -(41:10) In all of these examples, God does the doing, as we abide in Him through faith. When we receive this powerful gift, we are also acknowledging that we cannot do anything of eternal worth on our own: “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” -Isaiah 58:11

The thread of God’s strength being given to us as a gift of grace is also woven throughout the New Testament:

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God -Romans 4:20

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, -Ephesians 3:16

…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… -Colossians 1:11

It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. -Hebrews 13:9

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. -2 Thessalonians 3:3

Dear Friend, remember that God-given strength isn’t earthly power, but rather a miraculous chance to move mountains in love for His glory!

PIECE 21-LIVING WATER

Confession time. I’ve been guilty of drinking well water. Problem is, it always leaves me thirsty for more. This is why I am drawn to the fourth chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman next to a water well. He asks her for a drink, to which she replies that since Jesus is a Jew she shouldn’t associate with him. Jesus alludes to a gift of LIVING WATER that the woman doesn’t understanding. The woman, like me, enjoyed the familiar well water, even though something much better and eternal was hers if only she asked.

Jesus compared well water to living water: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” When I pursue the things in life that I desperately think will bring satisfaction, I’m not drinking living water. It’s like I invite Jesus over for dinner, only to make Him wait in the family room while I eat my meal alone. Once I realize that Jesus is my everything, I’m aware that I’ve been indeed drinking from the wrong well.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37,38) What’s really interesting is that the well the Samaritan woman was drawing water from wasn’t even a spring-fed well, but one into which dew and rain water seeped. (NIV Life Application Study Bible) What we think are priorities are in fact not, compared to the goals that Jesus has for us. The best part of this new gift of Living Water, is that it changes our heart desires. Once the woman at the well knew Jesus and what He offered, her desires were eternally transformed. Scripture says “leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town” and told people about Jesus. That water jar had been her priority. It symbolized what was most important to her. After receiving the Living Water of Jesus, the Samaritan woman had a new desire: share the Good News of Jesus.

An Old Testament king named Hezekiah, knew all about this ‘priority change.’ The Bible says, “Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…he removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.  And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. (2 Kings 18) King Hezekiah took a stand and cleared out all the things that had taken the peoples eyes off the Living God. Like the woman at the well left her jar, Hezekiah left his pride and went on to proclaim that the Lord is more important than man-made possessions.

The wonderful news is this gift is eternal. “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:13) Dear Friends, let’s drop what we’ve been holding on to and go tell our community about Jesus and His gift of Living Water that will never leave them thirsty for anything else!

PIECE 22-PROVISION

Always and abundantly, Jesus provides! This next gift our Lord has for us is His PROVISION for everything we need in life. As with all of the other gifts Jesus gives us, His provision satisfies. In Christ, we find our greatest and richest prize.

Jesus was invited to a wedding in Cana, and there get a glimpse of his ability to abundantly provide for our needs. The party was in full swing, everyone having a good time and then…the wine ran out. Mary asked Jesus for help and then gathered the servants around and said, “Do whatever he tells you.” I want those words to become my daily motto. Lord Jesus, today, help me to do whatever You tell me to do. Jesus wound up turning water (somewhere between 1200-1800 gallons worth) into wine.

We find a crucial spiritual truth in this miracle. Not only does Jesus provide more than we ask for, but His provision is the best. What Jesus has to offer us is always better than what we could manufacture on our own. John’s gospel tells us that the master of the wedding banquet commented on the new wine that Jesus made: “You have saved the best for last.”

We see this beautiful reality of the Lord’s abundant provision in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus had just been informed that his friend John the Baptist had lost his life at the hands of Herod. Scripture tells us that Jesus went to a solitary place to seek privacy, but the crowds followed him. We see another wonderful aspect of our Savior’s heart in this passage. He had just lost his dear friend, but when Jesus saw the crowds, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matt 14:14) Jesus takes our meager “5 fish and 2 loaves” living and transforms it into a miraculous provision of grace. When the 5,000 were finished “and were satisfied,” the disciples collected twelve basketfuls of leftovers. Jesus provides for our daily needs no matter how big or small, and He does so abundantly. We will never have a need that Jesus can’t fill. Ever.

Another time, Jesus took seven loaves of bread and and a few fish and fed 4,000 because He had compassion on them. “The people ate and were satisfied.” (Mark 8:8) As with the feeding of the 5,000, there was an abundance of the Lord’s blessing. This time the disciples collected seven basketfuls of leftovers were collected.

After Jesus rose from the grave, he appeared to his disciples who had been spending a fruitless night fishing on the Sea of Tiberius. Jesus met them on the shore and asked if they had caught anything. The Bible says that they said they hadn’t. Jesus told them to go back out and guaranteed that they would find some. They obeyed. When we let Jesus guide our daily steps down the path he has charted for us, we reap abundant blessings. The disciples caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.

Heavenly Father, thank you for letting Jesus come down here to save us! Jesus thank you for taking our place on the cross! Jesus give us strength to get out of your way in our lives. Help us to remember that you offer abundantly more than anything this life has to offer. Help us walk the path that you have chosen for us, not the one we think might bring the most earthly satisfaction. And, help us listen to you and obey your precious commands. In your mighty Name we pray. Amen.

PIECE 23- PRAYER

We are blessed with the gift of PRAYER, by which we have the chance to talk to the Living God who created us! Jesus said that our Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask. We might be tempted to think, Why bother?, but when we realize what prayer really means our hearts will yearn for the blessings that it brings. Picture how a drop of food coloring put in a glass of water, reaches down to touch the bottom…let’s pretend the water is our souls and life is the glass. God’s love is the drop of coloring.

The Bible showcases how God hears, cares for, and answers  his children. In Genesis, we learn that “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (25:21) Moses gives another angle to our gift of prayer. In Exodus, we find Pharaoh had summoned him to ask for an end to the thunder and hail that was creating misery for his people. Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord.” (9:29) “Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward the Lord; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land.” (9:33) In both of these cases, God is faithful. When we talk to Him, we know that He listens. His love, like that drop of coloring begins to spread out throughout our being.

The LORD said to [Solomon]: “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (1 Kings 9:3) “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.” (2 Kings 20:5)

The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. (Psalm 6:9) Psalm 17:6 says, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.” Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! (Psalm 66:20) Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me  and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.'” (Acts 30:30,31)

The gift of prayer also lets us worship the Lord. Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the LORD;” (1 Samuel 2:1) This example of prayer show us that our words to the Father are not just requests, but are a form of praise. The words of Nehemiah also highlight this aspect of praying: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.” (1:11) And when Jesus taught the disciples about prayer, He reminded us of this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Prayer is glorifying our Creator.

This gift of communicating with our heavenly father isn’t a solitary event. In the writings of James we learn that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (5:16)  Back to the food coloring analogy: prayer brings a supernatural power that stirs the water of our souls and lets God’s love permeates our entire being! I love the words from the band Sidewalk Prophets that say, “When they see me do they see you?” Are my prayers to the Living God changing me, completely, from the inside out?

PIECE 24-HIS WORD

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. -Matthew 24:35

This life contains many false promises. Fine print. Interest charges. With Jesus, all of those go out the window because He is “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) When Jesus gives us his word, we can be confident that He will do everything He says. Jesus is the Word made flesh. The truth of His word, the Bible, reminds us that He is the light that shines in our darkness and that darkness cannot overcome it. The disappointments we share do not smother us. The heartaches we feel do not overwhelm us. Jesus gives us words that heal and encourage. His word never fails.

John 3:33 says that God is truthful. Jesus gives us His word that in Him we have true life (John 10:10) and nothing can “snatch” us out of His hands. (v.28) We are safe from the lies and misfortunes that try to take our attention away from Jesus, because He holds onto us and never lets go. Not only are we protected, we are empowered. Remember, we are saved to serve. While we are safe in our Savior’s hands, let’s recall the words of Psalm 115: “may the Lord cause you to flourish.” As we go through today, boldly telling people about Jesus, may we gain encouragement from His words: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8) Jesus tells the angles your name!

Another important truth that Jesus gives us is recorded in John 12: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” Our Lord’s word creates a beautiful symphony of love and praise between heaven and earth. First, Jesus speaks to his angels and they hear our names and God honors us as we serve the Lord.

After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he said, “Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Jesus, our master, gives us his word, that if we serve like He served, we will be blessed. We aren’t left to wonder how it is we go about this service. We didn’t receive a secret calling. As we head into this day, we do the works Jesus did. We walk in Him as we go because he is our Light that guides us through this dark life. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14)

The Lord’s word is our only truth and it lasts forever. Jesus won’t go back on it or ever change His mind. He loves us too much. He gave His life to save us. Is He your Savior? He has great things planned for you!

PIECE 25-GRACE

Grace. This gift that we have in Jesus is unique because Scripture records Him saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Grace, God’s unmerited favor, frees us to live the lives we were made to live. Grace tells guilt to flee and keeps our hearts safe from the lies this world tells us.

The gift of grace wipes the dust off our memories so that we may remember where we came from and what the Lord did for us. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of this as he quoted the words of Isaiah: “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” (49:8) To the Ephesian church, Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (2:8)

God has given us this gift of grace in Jesus (Ephesians 1:6). Because of the cross, Jesus made a way for us to go from death to life. We can’t work our way into heaven. “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hewbrews 2:9) Grace helps us know that Jesus was the only One who died for you and me. He died so that we may call Him Savior and Holy! He died so that we wouldn’t be separated from Him forever. Jesus died so that our sins and guilt would be wiped away. Jesus endured our shame and rightful punishment because of God’s grace.

The more we know God and Jesus, the more we know grace. (2 Peter 1:2) And the more grace we receive, the more we must give. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10) We are called to be stewards of grace. Philip Yancey says it best: “One who has been touched by grace will no longer look on those who stray as ‘those evil people’ or ‘those poor people who need our help.’ Nor must we search for signs of ‘loveworthiness.’ Grace teaches us that God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are.” (What’s So Amazing About Grace?)

Paul also said that we are not to rely on worldly wisdom, but on God’s grace. (2 Corinthians 1:12) Quiet times spent with the Lord reading His word, listening to Him, praying…these are our guides down the river of His grace. Life, formed as the mountains and valleys, is the land on the shores but grace carries us through them all to eternity with Jesus in heaven. The current of His love moves us on, through the highs and lows, as we focus on Him alone; the horizon and hope of our hearts.

PIECE 26-FAITH

Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This gift that we’ve been given unlocks all the doors that the world closes. The Lord went to unbelievable lengths to give this gift to us: “Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) The apostle Paul told the Galatians, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (2:20)

Jesus died a horrific death on the cross so that you and I may have a way to be cleansed of our sins. The most amazing thing is that the grave couldn’t hold Him! Jesus rose so that we may rest assured that He who conquers death also has the power to conquer our inherent sin problem. This is where faith comes in. Faith is the spiritual air our souls breathe. It tethers us to the beautiful heart of the One who loves us more than anything the world might send our way. Faith reminds us that our hope of eternal life with Jesus is not in vain.

Like Noah, “when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family, (Hebrews 11:7)” we press on in faith knowing that doing the Lord’s will brings Him the glory and honor that is rightfully His. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (11:8) Both of these situations sound absurd. In our day of smart phones and social media, it’s hard to imagine unplugging from either one of those forever and connecting to God. But maybe instead of an ark, we could build a Godly legacy with our lives, even though society will laugh and call us crazy. And, maybe instead of traveling to the Promised Land, we could just go across the street and be Jesus to our neighbor, even if we we’re filled with uncertainty about going.

Moses “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (11:25,26) Egypt had money. Egypt had material things. Just like our world today. Oh, if we could have the faith of Moses and look ahead to our eternal reward and say no to the temptations of this life. That kind of faith helps us live mistreated lives along with the rest of God’s children so that His glory can be known and not our own.

“I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength…” (11:32-34) Through a life of faith, these people also did amazing things with their lives. They trusted completely that God is who He says He is and that His promises don’t go unfulfilled. Even though they faced challenges that seemed insurmountable, through faith each overcame their obstacles and gave God the glory. And, their lives have a become a testimony to the richness and meaning that comes by living this life through the Lord’s great gift of faith.

PIECE 27-SONSHIP

We set out to discover thirty pieces or gifts that Jesus has for His children and discovered  things such as rest, open doors, courage, and humility. This next piece of the Lord’s treasure is called SONSHIP. The gospel of John says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (1:12) The apostle Paul details this in his letter to the church in Rome: “For those who are led by the Spirit of Go are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:14-17)

Abba is a title that teaches us a great deal about this gift of sonship and our position as a child of God. This would be one of the first words a child learned to speak. Abba connotes intimacy between child and parent as well as respect. It shows us the reason why Jesus constantly tells us not to be afraid. As a parent, I would do anything for my children. Anything! How much more is the Creator, our Heavenly Father, ready to lavish on His children? As a child of God, one of our biggest blessings is that we are no longer slaves to the world’s way of life. Paul’s letter reminds us that the world’s way of doing things reaps fear and uncertainty. Even the great King Solomon in his reflections in the book of Ecclesiastes concluded that everything under the sun is meaningless. As children of the Most High, we are free from fear because He is Protector and Lover of our souls.

Your heavenly Father loves you so much, he sent his only Son to die for you so that you may be freed from the chains of worldly slavery and be given a new life of love and relationship with Abba, Father!

You are no longer a face in the crowd of millions, lost and alone. You are called by God as His son or daughter to live a life that glorifies Him and testifies to the riches of His grace. Jesus said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Lord, thank you for this new day that you’ve given me. Thank you for loving me. Lead me to the people and places Your will would have me go and give me the courage to be a  helpful servant. Thank you for saving me and setting me free. Remind me often that I’m your beloved child because the world would rather help me forget that truth. My Beautiful Savior, thank you for enduring the cross and reminding me not to be afraid. May your Holy Name be praised forever!

PIECE 28-CONFIDENCE

We have been trading out the possessions of the world for eternal treasures in Christ. Whereas Judas Iscariot took a sack of thirty silver pieces, we have discovered spiritual rewards that not only assist us in our daily living but also sanctify us for the life to come. The next piece we pull from the Lord’s gift bag is titled CONFIDENCE. This precious blessing aligns our hearts with truths such as 2 Chronicles 32:8 which says the Lord helps us and fights our battles and Psalm 71:5 that says “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.” Merriam-Webster defines confidence as the quality or state of being certain.

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” (Jeremiah 17:7) The only things we should be certain of, are the words and promises of Jesus Christ. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12) If we put our certainty in Jesus, we are truly free to go before Almighty God with our worship and prayers. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) Mercy and grace come from above. Nothing in this world can give us these precious blessings.

Be certain that Jesus doesn’t want you to be afraid and that he is always there with you to help! So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)

Be certain that God loves you like a father loves his children and that he listens to you! This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14) 

Be certain that God has a great plan for you, a long-term plan that is good! Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Be certain that you have a special part to play in the sharing of the gospel message to the world! And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:14)

Be certain of the hope that this confidence gives you that one day you will see Jesus: And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28)

Jesus taught about his gift of true confidence in his parable recorded in Luke 18: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

I want to be a tax collector. But, if I were honest, most of my time is spent walking around like a Pharisee. Sure, I don’t tell God I’m happy I’m not like a robber or adulterer, but my daily living tells a different story. Too many times, my confidence is in the things I can see, rather than in the heart of the One who died for me.

How about you? Where are putting your confidence? Where does your certainty lie? Be  confident that Jesus is who He says He is and that He loves you. Confidence in Him is a gift that always satisfies.